From an outsider’s perspective, Jaylan Ford’s commitment to The University of Texas seemed predictable: a high school standout choosing a team he has adored since childhood.
“Growing up, my little league team was the Longhorns, so that was cool because I kind of had it all planned out,” Ford said. “Texas became my favorite team in real life.”
However, Ford’s road to Austin wasn’t so clear-cut. Ford was the lowest-rated recruit for the Longhorns in the 2020 cycle despite his prolific career as a linebacker at Dallas-area powerhouse Frisco Lone Star High School. He may not have focused on his lack of recognition, but his mother, Youlonda Taylor, did.
“My mom would actually look at (my three-star ranking) more than I did and tell me about it,” Ford said. “To me, it’s just something for the fans to see. The coaches know when they see the film what a player can do.”
Ford finished off his outstanding high school career earning District 5-5A Defensive MVP as a junior and senior and second team All-State honors as a senior. Coming from a self-described “sports family,” Taylor knew her son had the talent and drive to play Division I football.
“I would always tell Jaylan, ‘Ball don’t lie,’” Taylor said. “Do what you are supposed to do, stay level-headed and the results will come.”
Ford received the coveted offer from Texas toward the end of his senior season at Lone Star, over a month after he had committed to The University of Utah. After talking it over with his mother, Ford decided to stay close to home and don a burnt orange jersey for the first time since his little league days.
“It was about family more than not wanting to go to Utah because Utah has a great program,” Taylor said. “He has so much support here and people that are looking forward to coming to see him play.”
Texas’ lack of depth and experience at the linebacker position makes Ford more valuable to the team as a freshman than his three-star ranking indicates, said Jeff Rayburn, Ford’s high school coach.
“I know there’s a need in talking to coach (Chris) Ash for linebackers,” Rayburn said. “Especially with the switch to the 3-4 defensively, I think he will have an opportunity … to go get on the depth chart at linebacker.”
Despite COVID-19 forcing the nation to adapt to social distancing norms, Ford has pushed through the freshman offseason program to strengthen his 205-pound frame.
“I didn’t want to be one of those people that comes in out of shape and you can tell they haven’t done anything (in the offseason),” Ford said. “Once they lifted the quarantine, I was finally able to get into the weight room, and I was there every day.”
Few freshmen have the opportunity to contribute from the start, but Ford has bigger plans than just getting on the field during his time with the Longhorns. With a goal to help Texas win a National Championship, Ford said the rankings and scouts who overlooked him no longer matter. Like always, he’s just going to play ball.
In the end, Ford’s performance on the field will do all the talking, Rayburn said.
“I think we will be talking in a couple of years and saying, ‘What a steal for those guys,’” Rayburn said. “People are gonna realize that they missed out, and I think Texas got a great one.”